Tuesday, June 5, 2012


SONG - Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles

Strawberry tarts  from a patisserie
My first memory of strawberries is a childhood breakfast: red summer berries circling a mound of white powdered sugar. My mother always used her favorite flat Norwegian bowls. My sister and I dipped each berry in the powdery pile. What heavenly flavors!  I have not repeated this ritual since then, but the magic lingers still.
Another fond childhood memory is the gallons of strawberry ice cream we ate during the  hot, humid  Wisconsin summers. We bought  this in cardboard cartons which were easy to dispose of , though we never considered that then. But the best  treat of all was strawberry shortcake, which I will discuss later.There's a lot to say about America's favorite dessert.

Now however, let's jump to the present and continue the story with my green bin. In Berkeley, if the weather cooperates, berries arrive in late March just in time for Easter,  and they continue in the markets until November. I eat them daily throughout most of their season, and I almost always buy them at the Farmer's Market. It's important to buy organic because strawberries are often sprayed and maintain a high pesticide residue.  I prefer Swanton Farm's sweet berries but I also like Lucero's. Mr. Lucero taught me how to store the berries: put them in a paper towel-lined Tupperware container, close the lid and refrigerate. This really slows spoilage. And I like to bring my empty container to the market and transfer the fruit right into it, leaving the mesh basket at the stand to be refilled by the vendor. This is catching on here; in fact, while I was photographing strawberries, three shoppers walked up with their containers. I try to avoid buying fruit packaged in plastic.  I'm so grateful to live in Berkeley where I have the option of buying produce and grains in bulk, without  packaging!

Mesh baskets at Lucero's at Berkeley's Farmers' Market

Plastic containers at Trader Joe's:  NO  NO  NO

At home I  rinse the berries lightly when I'm ready to use them and finally start collaborating with my green bin. The only inedible parts of a strawberry are the green leaves on top and their removal is called "hulling". You can do this with a tool called a strawberry huller or it can be done by hand. I like to pinch off the hull with my finger tips and flick it directly into my green bin. There's not  much compost here but the quantity of leaves I remove creating morning smoothies, evening cocktails (white wine with halved  berries is refreshing), fruit salads, spinach salads (pictured below) and  an occasional rhubarb-strawberry crisp, does add up. I think about making exquisite strawberry fritters that I tasted in a cooking class taught by Giuliano  Bugialli, the famous cookbook author, instructor and Tuscan scholar, though I never do.  Fear of frying, I guess. But the recipe, "Fragole in Camicia",  can be found in Bugialli's Italy.

Toni Koshlap's spinach salad

"Old-fashioned shortcake is always made with biscuit dough, not cake, and is served with unsweetened heavy cream, unwhipped". So says Fannie Merritt Farmer in in her Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, 1896. I follow most of her advice when I make this quintessential and truly American summer dessert. I always use biscuit dough instead of cake, though I know controversy surrounds the subject.  I bake the biscuits immediately prior to serving, for they must be hot from the oven to qualify as perfect shortcake. Fork-split and lavishly buttered, these savory morsels are now ready for their gaudy topping of sweetened quartered berries and cream. Here, I part ways with Fannie and use lightly sugared, whipped cream . That is my ideal strawberry shortcake: buttered hot biscuits, sweetened ripe strawberries and  whipped cream laced with powdered sugar and vanilla.

Classic strawberry shortcake

Pictured below is my mother's recipe box, showing her "basic shortcake", written front and back on  an old 3x5 card. It contains many recipes in her handwriting, a nostalgic reminder of happy childhood hours spent in her kitchen. This particular recipe comes from an old stained copy of the classic,  The Settlement Cookbook, her favorite.


Today I'm  featuring The Compleat Strawberry by Stafford Whiteaker, published simultaneously in England by Century and  in New York by Random House Value, 1985. It's an amusing volume by a British enthusiast who celebrates the berry in art, poetry and song, with herbal remedies, gardening tips and seventy delectable recipes.  This charming book is readily available on-line.


  1. Yum. I can not wait to try out your mom's Shortcake recipe! I never thought to bring my own container to the Local Farmers Market! Thanks!

  2. Love love love the video . . . gimme some of whatever was in those strawberries the Liverpool Lads ate!!! Great blog!!!